Flushable fiasco: what bad bathroom habits could cost you

In Oklahoma City along, we flush, wash and drain around110 million gallons of water every day. All that waste water has to be treated before it can be returned to theenvironment, but we found out some bad bathroom habits could be costing you andthe city big bucks.

At the city's waste water treatment facility in southwestOklahoma City, the project manager took us on a tour of how waste water getsbrought in and treated. The processbegins with the "bar screens." Thescreens capture large debris. Thefacility refers to much of that debris as "rags." The rags can be anything from paper towels tobaby wipes to other so-called "flushable" wipes.

"Frankly the rate payer is paying twice when they usethose wipes they're paying for them initially and they're paying for them intheir rates," said Pat Corbett the OKC project manager for the city's wastewater treatment facilities.

The "rags" can sometimes miss the bar screen process andend up jamming up pumps used to transfer waste water for further treatment. Corbett said just dumping the hoppers thatcollect the debris costs the city $5,000 a year.

"We've seen clumps of rags as big as 55 gallon drums thatdo accumulate over time in these reactors," Corbett told Fox 25, "And I'veheard reports of upwards the size of a Volkswagen."

The "rag" problem isn't necessarily just the wipesthemselves. Corbett said they get hungup in other clumps of fats, oils and grease. The grease can act as glue that binds even 'flushable' materialtogether.

"Our job would be made easier if we did the very best wecould to keep foreign material out of the sewer system," Corbett said.

One of the largest makers of "flushable" wipes is theKimberly Clark Corporation. In a videostatement provided by the company R & E Director Christine Cowell said"Flushability has been all over the news lately it's really been an issuethat's causing problems with waste water treatment facilities. Kimberly Clark produces products that are tobe used in the bathroom and flushed after use and we really need to make surethat our products are doing what they're supposed to after they enter thosesystem."

The makers of 'flushable' wipes say they followguidelines set forth by INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven FabricsIndustry. The president of INDA says theassociation has worked to put forth better guidelines for labeling of flushableand non-flushable products.

Kimberly Clark says it's flushable wipes have gonethrough new innovations that allow them to break up faster and put them through'real-world tests' to ensure they will not harm waste water treatmentfacilities.

"We know that consumers want to feel cleaner and fresherthan with toilet paper alone but they don't want to be concerned with whether aproducts going to cause problems in their plumbing or in the environment,"Cowell said."

INDA said its tests show that of the debris collectedduring the initial intake at treatment facilities only about ten percent of itis composed of products marketed as 'flushable.' INDA says the majority of debris is comprisedof paper towels, feminine hygiene products and baby wipes.

The city of Oklahoma City says people should not usetheir toilets or garbage disposals as trash cans. Anything dumped into the sewer system canarrive at a treatment facility in as little as 30 minutes. Most flushable wipes do not begin breakingdown until about 30 minutes after flushing and can take up to three hours tofully break apart.

The city says people need to be aware that flushableproducts do not disintegrate as well as toilet paper and can still contributeto clogs.

The city also says the following items should never beflushed: baby wipes, moist wipes, Swiffer products, Toilet bowl scrub pads,paper towels, napkins, cotton swabs, cotton pads, tissues, plastic wrappers,band aids, personal hygiene products, dental floss, cigarettes and medications.

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